WOMEN AND RELIGION
The Chiang-Mai Declaration
A Study Guide
This Study Guide accompanies the document Religion And Women: An Agenda For Change, (the Chiang Mai Declaration) the statement that was unanimously endorsed on March 3, 2004 by all the participants at the meeting, Women and Religions in a Globalized World: Conversations to Advance Gender Equity, convened by the Peace Council and The Center for Health and Social Policy in Chiang Mai, Thailand, from February 29 to March 3, 2004.
The purpose of the Study Guide is to help fulfill the commitment by the participants to call on other women and other religious leaders to reach out to each other to enhance mutual understanding, support, and cooperation. This can be done on the regional level to expand the consensus achieved here, and at the national level to define concrete, joint activities toward advancing women’s human rights and well-being.
We, the participants in this conference on women and religion, recognize that contemporary realities have tragic consequences for women’s lives. Without a commitment to women’s human rights and to the resolution of these tragedies, religions are failing the world. Their own relevance is at stake as they become more and more isolated from the values and needs of their members.
It is urgent that religions address these realities. Religions must be consonant with the cultural evolution in which we are all immersed. Religions must no longer tolerate violence against women. Women are alienated from religions that do. We are committed to working towards change, and we call on others, women and men, to join in this task.
1. How have you experienced the struggle for women’s human rights?
2. How/where does that struggle intersect with your faith tradition?
I. WOMEN AND GLOBALIZATION: PROBLEM AND PROMISE
We live in a time of rapid change which provides both challenges and opportunities. This change has profound effects on all our lives.
Our globalized world is ravaged by armed conflict, increasing economic disparity, the feminization of poverty, massive displacement of peoples, violence against women, the pandemic of HIV and AIDS, enduring racism, and extremisms all of which generate a climate of deep fear and widespread insecurity.
Globalized capitalism has reduced everything to a commodity and everyone to a consumer and commodity. Nowhere is this more evident than in the lives of women:
• Women’s and children’s bodies are commodified, especially in sexual trafficking.
• Increasingly HIV and AIDS have a woman’s face.
• Women and children disproportionately populate the camps of refugees and displaced persons.
• Women make up the greater proportion of exploited laborers.
• Pressures of the globalized economy have led to even greater violence against women and children.
Globalization, however, also bears the promise and possibilities of advancing women’s human rights and well-being:
• More women in more places can be gainfully and justly employed.
• Information technology can enable women throughout the world to share strategies, successes, and hope.
3. What do you know about the reality of WOMEN and trafficking, HIV and AIDS, refugees and displaced persons, exploited laborers and violence against children and women? (See Resources at the end of the Study Guide).
II. WOMEN AND RELIGIONS: PROBLEM AND PROMISE
Religions at their best celebrate the dignity of each human being and of all life as valuable parts of a sacred whole. They inspire and empower us to compassion and justice.
Religions, however, have not always been at their best. They have collaborated with dehumanizing values of cultural, economic and political powers. Thus they have contributed to the suffering of women:
• They have made women invisible by denying them religious education and excluding them from decision-making .
• They have been silent when patriarchal systems have legitimated the violence, abuse, and exploitation of women by men.
• This silence has been deafening in the face of such atrocities as rape, incest, female genital mutilation, sex selective abortion, and discrimination against sexual minorities.
• They have not recognized the conscience and moral agency of women, especially in relation to their sexuality and reproductive decisions.
4. Have you experienced this aspect of religion contributing to the dehumanization of women:
- Denying religious education?
- Excluding women from decision making?
- Legitimizing violence, abuse and exploitation of women by men?
- Being silent in the face of atrocities against women?
- Failing to recognize the conscience and moral agency of women?
But religions can and must do better. They must reclaim their core values of justice, dignity, and compassion and apply these values to women. We reached consensus that:
A. Within the religions, women’s religious literacy should be recognized and fostered. Women are:
• Students: Just as education of women is today understood to be critical in transforming the world, so providing women with religious education is critical in transforming religion. Women seek religious education at both basic and advanced levels. They should be welcomed.
• Scholars: In spite of obstacles, women have developed as religious scholars. That scholarship is an essential resource for the overall development of our understanding of religion. It should be promoted.
• Teachers: Male religious leaders and students have much to gain from exposure to women teachers of religion. Unless we work to change men, the ability of religions to progress in sensitivity to women is impossible.
• Leaders: Women should be full participants in the life and institutional leadership of their religious communities. Women are prepared to be decision-makers, and their gifts should be recognized and used to the fullest extent.
5. What areas of women’s religious literacy are lacking in your religious tradition?
6. Are there ways that you and/or your group can foster these attitudes and actions in your religious tradition?
B. Within the world:
• Religions should apply their message of peace in order to oppose the daily reality of violence in family and society. There is a contradiction between the message of peace inherent in all religions and the absence of advocacy for peace in the home and society.
• Women are subjects, not objects, in their own lives. The right to choose any role, including motherhood, should be supported socially, economically, and politically.
• Religions should apply the message of social justice to women. The world’s religions play a leadership role in seeking social justice, in the environment, against racism, and for the poor. But religions have been largely silent in response to critical issues of women’s human rights, in the family and in the work place.
• This is nowhere more evident than in the area of women’s sexuality and reproductive health. Given the moral concern about abortion and the range of stances toward it, the view of any particular religious tradition should not be imposed on the consciences of others. Decriminalization of abortion is a minimal response to this reality and a reasonable means of protecting the life and health of women at risk.
7. How can religion bring its voice to:
- Oppose violence against women in the family and in society?
- Call society to support the right of women to choose any role, including motherhood?
- Respond to critical issues of women’s human rights in the family and in thework place?
- Foster positive and healthy attitudes toward sexuality?
- Develop and promote a common ground for civil discourse on abortion?
- Move toward an understanding of plurality in civil society that will allow acceptance of the decriminalization of abortion?
Our experience of coming together as women leaders and religious leaders has convinced us that the religious traditions and the aspirations of women are not in opposition. We are not enemies. On the contrary, we share the same commitment to human dignity, social justice, and human rights for all.
We therefore commit ourselves and call on other women and other religious leaders to reach out to each other to enhance mutual understanding, support, and cooperation. This can be done on the regional level to expand the consensus achieved here and at the national level to define concrete, joint activities toward advancing women’s human rights and well-being.
We came together as women and men to explore how the positive powers of religion could be engaged to advance the well-being of women. Indeed, we believe that when women and religious traditions collaborate, a powerful force for advancing women’s human rights and leadership will be created.
8. What conversion or awareness around the relationship of women and religion needs to happen for you personally?
9. What can you do with others to address the concerns and injustices that surfaced in your discussion and move forward the attitudes, understandings and actions of this document?
10. What is the next step you will take to be the change you want to see?
• It is estimated that anywhere from 700,000 to four million persons are trafficked annually worldwide.
• Girls between 13 and 18 constitute the largest group within the sex industry into which 1-2 million women and children are trafficked each year.
• With the fear of HIV/AIDS, costumers soliciting sex have driven traffickers to recruit younger victims, some as young as 7, thinking erroneously that they are too young to have been infected.
• Trafficking is the third largest sources of profit, after drugs and arms, for international organized crime, with revenue amounting to billions of dollars each year.
• A quote from a convicted trafficker helps to explain: Once a drug is sold it’s gone, but a girl can be sold over and over before she collapses, has gone mad, committed suicide, or died of disease.
Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CAT-W) is a non-governmental organization working internationally to pro-mote women's human rights by combating sexual exploitation in all its forms. http://www.catwinternational.org
End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT) is a global network dedicated to eliminating the commercial sexual exploitation of children. http://www.ecpat.net.
UN Global Programme against Trafficking in Human Beings assists Member States in efforts to combat trafficking in human beings. It highlights the involvement of organized criminal groups and promotes the development of effective ways of cracking down on perpetrators. http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/trafficking_human_beings.html
HIV and AIDS
• As of December 2002, 50 percent of adults living with HIV/ADS worldwide were women. UNAIDS
• As of the end of 2003, 40 million people worldwide --more than 37 million adults and 2.5 million children younger than 15 years were living with HIV/AIDS. Approximately 67 percent of these people (26.6 million) live in sub-Saharan Africa. UNAIDS
• As AIDS ravages families and communities, the burden of caring for ill family members rests mainly with women and girls many of whom may be seriously ill themselves. A woman affected by HIV/AIDS is plunged further into poverty, losing the ability to provide for herself and her children.
World Health Organization is the United Nations agency for whose objective is the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health. www.who.int. WHO offers resources related to HIV/AIDS and Women including fact sheets on:
Global Health Council is a membership alliance dedicated to saving lives by improving healthcare throughout the world. Their HIV/AIDS section features information on Women and AIDS. http://www.globalhealth.org
United Nations Development Fund for Women - Its Web Portal on Gender and HIV/AIDS provides up-to-date resources on the gender dimensions of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. http://www.genderandaids.org
REFUGEES & DISPLACED PERSONS
10.6 million refugees in the world
25.8 million internally displaced persons
21 million people under UNHCR mandate
80% of the world's refugees are women and children
• Rosalie, a Burundian refugee in Nduta camp, Tanzania: We walked many, many months, hiding in forests and villages, trying to reach a safe place. We were hungry; our feet bled, no skin left. We were separated and we lost each other. Finally I reached Tanzania... Today, I live in Nduta, caring for three of my grandchildren, whose parents are believed to be dead. I am haunted still by the story of how my husband was killed. I ache for the loss of my children and am troubled with not knowing if any are still alive... At times I feel overwhelmed with sadness and suffering.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees provides protection and assistance to refugees. http://www.unhcr.org
• The United Nations Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery estimated in 1999 that some 20 million people are held in bonded labour around the world.
• 8.4 million children are in slavery, trafficking, debt bondage and other forms of forced labour, forced recruitment for armed conflict, prostitution, pornography and other illicit activities
Anti-Slavery International works at local, national and international levels to eliminate the system of slavery around the world. http://www.antislavery.org .
Sweatshop Watch is a coalition of organizations committed to eliminating the exploitation that occurs in sweatshops. The web site provides links in organizations in various parts of the world working to do the same. http://www.sweatshopwatch.org
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
• At least one out of every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in her lifetime.
• More than 60 million women are missing from the world today as a result of sex-selective abortions and female infanticide.
• Every year, millions of women are raped by partners, relatives, friends & strangers, employers & colleagues, soldiers and members of armed groups.
• Small arms and light weapons are the main tools of almost every conflict. Women and children account for nearly 80% of the casualties, according to the UN Secretary-General.
End Violence Against Women is sponsored by John Hopkins Center for Communication Program. It collects and shares documentation and communication materials produced in the worldwide struggle to end violence against women. http://www.endvaw.org.
SEXUAL & REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH AND RIGHTS
A selection of international organizations specifically concerned with sexual and reproductive health and women's human rights (in alphabetical order):